PM Netanyahu made a surprise announcement last Monday, only a few moments after the signing in of new Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He declared that Israel will be prepared to negotiate peace with the Palestinians based on the so-called Arab or Saudi initiative and the two-state solution. He made it clear that this would only be the starting point of any negotiations, so that Israel will not accept this proposal as is. He referred to two important aspects, the need to engage the Arab States and the need to take into account the dramatic changes that have occurred in the region in the past 10 years.
There are three contributing reasons why Netanyahu may have made this surprising move at this time.
1. The French initiative. Once again France is meddling in the Middle East and in Israel’s affairs. It intends to go ahead with a conference of interested parties in the Israel-Arab dispute, but excluding the Palestinians and Israel (what a stupid idea, only the French could come up with something so idiotic). Their idea is basically that the international powers plus the Arab world will decide what will happen and will then have another conference in which they will dictate this “solution” to both sides. Since the Palestinians will have the Arab States there to represent their interests and in effect Israel will have no-one (they certainly can’t rely on the French or the Americans), Israel can never accept such a dictated solution or in fact any outside dictate. So far Israel has emphasized direct negotiations between the two sides, but Pres Abbas of the PA is clearly unwilling or unable to accept this. That makes the French proposal dangerous for Israel, since the Palestinians can have their positions accepted by his French conference without any compromise with Israel.
2. The appointment of Lieberman: The appointment of Lieberman as Defense Minister has unleashed a wave of negative publicity about the Netanyahu government, not only from the opposition in Israel, but around the world. It has notably included comment that states that Lieberman is far to the right, and could be prepared to make moves that would initiate another war. In order to undercut this politically motivated criticism, Netanyahu may have felt that he had to take an initiative that emphasized Israel’s commitment to peace thru the two-state solution.
3. The status of the region. The Sunni States of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf States have undoubtedly been engaged in informal discussions with Israel over the Shia threat of Iran as well as that of the extremist Islamic State. Frankly they are not secure or comfortable with the commitment of the US to support them under the Obama Administration, and they see Israel as the only significant military ally in the region. But, in order to openly deal with Israel they need the Palestine conflict to be reasonably resolved. Note that these states are not really concerned about the fate of the Palestinian people, only that they must pay lip service to the role the Palestinians in the Arab political context. If that is the case, then maybe a deal can be reached between the Arab States and Israel that could be imposed on the Palestinians, for the greater good of the Sunni Arab future.
In considering this maneuver, one must taker into account that only real interests motivate states, including Israel and the Sunni Arab States, and it is probably at this point in the interests of both sides to come to an accommodation, despite any propagandistic value of the Palestine conflict for the Sunni States. But, as usual the world ignored this pronouncement of Israel’s PM. Their minds are made up.